Giant's Causeway is a cluster of approximately 40,000 basalt columns rising out of the sea on the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. These rock formations get their name from an old legend stating that Irish warrior Finn McCool built the path across the sea to face his Scottish rival, Benandonner.
On his way back to Scotland, Benandonner tears up the path behind him, leaving just what exists today on the Northern Irish coast and the Scottish island of Staffa, which has similar rock formations.
While the legend makes for an interesting story, geologists have a different explanation for the creation of the Giant's Causeway: volcanic activity. Now declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thousands of tourists visit Giant's Causeway each year to marvel at and photograph this natural wonder.
The Irish landscape, normally so gentle and well-behaved, reaches for a dramatic flourish as it meets the Atlantic coast. The seaboard offers no greater sight than County Clare’s mighty Cliffs of Moher, which tower above the raging ocean below along a 5-mile (8-kilometer) stretch.
The viewing platform on top of crenellated O’Brien’s Tower provides the best vistas, stretching west to the Aran Islands and north to Galway Bay. To find out more about the natural and historical significance of the cliffs, explore the visitors’ center which is discreetly embedded in a hillside.
Dublin Castle has served many functions since it was built by King John of England in 1230. At that time, the castle was meant to act as a defense center against the current invaders, the Normans, and serve as the seat of the English government. Since then, Dublin Castle has also been the site of the royal mint, the police headquarters and the residence of various British leaders. Today, the castle grounds are used for some governmental purposes but are mostly only used for ceremonial purposes, such as the Irish President's inauguration, and to host conferences, like those of the European Council.
When no such event is occurring, Dublin Castle is open to the public. Guided tours take visitors through the grounds, sharing the history and ever-changing purpose of each building.
Known as one of Ireland's national treasures, the Book of Kells is a sacred and important historical text dating from around 800 A.D., making it one of the oldest books in the world. The book gets its name from the Abbey of Kells, which was its original home until the continuous plundering of the Vikings proved to be too great of a threat. Since the 15th century it has been at Trinity College for safekeeping.
The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript created by Celtic monks that depicts the 4 gospels of the New Testament as well as other texts. Written in Latin, the book has been translated and found to have a few mistakes. But these are overlooked as the manuscript was made to serve a more decorative and ceremonial purpose than one of utility. In fact, it is its illuminations (illustrations) that make the Book of Kells so remarkable.
The bronze statue of Molly Malone commemorates the young woman featured in the local ballad, 'Cockles and Mussels'. As the song goes, this beautiful woman plied her trade as a fishmonger through the streets where her statue now rests, until she suddenly died of a fever. As a nod to the folk song, a statue was erected on the corner of Grafton and Suffolk streets and unveiled at the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations.
This tune has been adopted as Dublin's unofficial anthem, boosting this heroine to eternal fame. Though there is debate as to whether or not a Molly Malone like the one in the song ever existed, she is real to the people of Dublin and is remembered both in song as well as on June 13, National Molly Malone Day. The statue also acts as a popular rendezvous spot for groups as the beautiful bosomy woman with her cart cannot be missed.
Ireland's top attraction is the Guinness Storehouse. People from all corners of the world come to visit the birthplace of the black frothy brew and get a taste straight from the barrel.
In November 2000, the Guinness Storehouse opened its doors as a multi-media visitor experience. Thousands of visitors each year enter the pint glass-shaped tower and make their way up through seven stories of interactive exhibits demonstrating the brewing process as well as the history behind this legendary stout. A treat for the senses, the self-guided tour allows guests to look at old ads, touch the barley, smell the hops, hear the waterfall and finally, to taste the finished product.
On the top floor, visitors line up to claim their complimentary pint of Guinness, complete with shamrock flourish, to enjoy in the Gravity Bar. The completely glass-enclosed level provides 360 degree views over the brewery and city.
Visitors to Blarney Castle most often are actually visitors to the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone. As its name implies, the legend states that if you kiss the stone, you will never be at a loss for words. People come year after year to kiss this mystical stone, which can only be done by hanging upside down over a sheer drop from the castle's tower. Leaders and entertainers from all over the world have journeyed here to partake in this ritual and capture the power of the stone and travelers from near and far continue to do the same.
Besides the draw of the Stone, the Blarney Castle also boasts handsome gardens and several interesting rock formations. Known collectively as Rock Close, the formations have been given such whimsical names as Wishing Steps and Witch's Cave, adding a certain sense of enchantment to this 600 year old fortress.
Temple Bar is known as the cultural quarter of Dublin. Originally a slum that was to be developed into a bus terminus, it became home to a number of artists' galleries and small businessmen's shops who took advantage of the cheap rent in the 1980s. Presently, the Irish Film Institute and the Temple Bar Music Centre are amongst the several cultural institutions tucked away in this district's narrow cobbled streets.
Since the success of the movement to preserve Temple Bar, several drinking establishments have also popped up in the neighborhood. Though family-friendly during the day, what happens here after dark wouldn't be considered "culturally rich experiences" by most. As far as nightlife goes, Temple Bar is a popular place to get a drink or two (or three!) with friends, enjoy some traditional Irish music and observe the rowdy antics from a distance.
The Old Jameson Distillery, tucked away in a quaint cobbled alley that opens into a small courtyard, has managed to maintain the charm of its heyday in the early 1800s. Though most of the operation has since moved to Cork, Ireland, the old distillery is one of Dublin's top attractions and a must-see for whiskey fans as well as those curious about this Irish landmark.
Tours run daily and cover the history of John Jameson and the family business he created in addition to the whiskey making process. After learning about malting, milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling and maturing, visitors are invited to take part in the final step--tasting!
For those who feel that the tour sample has not quenched their thirst, they have the option to pull up a stool at the Jameson Bar or take their next drink with a meal at The 3rd Still restaurant. On the way out, a stop at the gift shop is a must to pick up souvenir bottles, glasses and everything else.
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St. Patrick's Cathedral, built to honor the patron saint of Ireland, is a must-see attraction in Dublin. It stands adjacent to the well that it is said St. Patrick himself used to baptize converts. The original wooden church was erected in this spot in the 5th century but was rebuilt at the end of the 13th century to reflect its boost to cathedral status. Some repairs were done in the 1800s but the original style was maintained well enough to make it unclear as to how much of the medieval structure remains.
Milestones in the cathedral's history include famous author Jonathan Swift serving as Dean and the first performance of Handel's Messiah by members of the cathedral's Choir School. The former Dean's grave and the original music composition are on display in the cathedral as evidence of these events. Besides these items, St. Patrick's is filled with rows of statues, beautiful stained glass, and elegant decorations for visitors to marvel at as they walk through.
Home to one of the country’s most popular historic sites, a 6th-century monastic complex, Glendalough, or ‘the valley of the lakes’, is set in an idyllic location between two lakes. An hour south of Dublin, Glendalough makes a popular day trip, as well as a common stop-off for hikers attempting the famous Wicklow Way, which runs through the valley.
The monastery was founded by the hermit monk St Kevin around 618AD and by the 9th century was among the leading monastic cities of Ireland, up until its destruction by the English in 1398. The ruins remain impressive today, with a collection of ancient churches, burial sites and monastic buildings sprawled around the Upper and Lower lakes.
A huge part of Glendalough’s appeal lies in its spectacular surroundings, with the two lakes encircled with woodlands, verdant pastures and the hilltops of the nearby Wicklow Mountains National Park.
Opened in 1880 as a grand Georgian park to be enjoyed by the people of Dublin, on sunny summer days St Stephen’s Green gets packed with families and groups of friends relaxing by the lake.
A walk around the 22-acre park is like a mini lesson on Irish history’s most celebrated figures. Fittingly for a park that was funded by the Guinness fortune, the grandest statue of all is that of Arthur Guinness. Look out for the bust of James Joyce by the bandstand, and in the northeast corner of the park, see Edward Delaney’s bronze memorial of the Great Famine of 1845-1850. By the central flower display, see the park bench where a modest plaque is dedicated to Dublin’s so-called ‘fallen women’ who were forced to work in the city’s Magdalene laundries.
Surrounded by elegant Georgian buildings, St Stephen’s Green wasn’t always so impressive—this was once a dangerous, marshy common that hosted public whippings, burnings and even hangings right up until the 18th century.
Any visitor touring Dublin by foot will eventually walk down O’Connell Street. This bustling street is Dublin’s main thoroughfare, and while it’s only approximately a quarter mile in length, it’s believed to be the widest urban street found anywhere in all Europe. O’Connell Street is also famous for its statues, where the stone likeness of James Joyce watches over the swarm of crowds. It’s also home to the world’s tallest sculpture, and is the site of the O’Connell Monument that still has bullet holes from the 1916 Easter uprising. The General Post Office involved in the uprising is also along the street, although the historical buildings and statues aside, it’s the shopping, restaurants, and pubs that draw most of O’Connell Street’s visitors today. After slowly strolling the length of the street—past the impromptu gatherings of street musicians and shadowy city eccentrics—cross the River Liffey on the O’Connell Bridge to head towards Trinity College.
Spanning 1752 acres just north of the River Liffey, Dublin’s Phoenix Park is one of the largest walled city parks in Europe. Established as a royal deer park for King Charles II in 1662, a herd of wild fallow deer have lived in the park grounds ever since. Look out for them in the meadow area known as Fifteen Acres.
Phoenix Park is full of tree-lined avenues, woods, and open spaces dotted with wildflowers. The park’s Victorian People's Flower Gardens are a popular visit, and next to The Walled Garden and Ashtown Castle there’s a cafe that serves fresh, organic food. There’s also a Victorian tea room on Phoenix Park’s Chesterfield Avenue. In summer, the park hosts open-air concerts and the Phoenix Park Motor Races every August. A popular spot for a picnic, the park is home to Dublin Zoo which receives over a million visitors a year, and there are bikes available for hire.
Opened in 1831, Dublin Zoo is one of the oldest in the world, and it sees over a million visitors a year. On a visit to the 70-acre park you'll see over 400 animals split into various sections. Visit the African Savanna to check out the giraffes, rhinos, and zebras. Check out the Gorilla Rainforest, and the herd of Asian elephants along the Kaziranga Forest Trail. To see Sumatran tigers and macaques, check out the Asian Forests, and also keep a lookout for hippos, orangutans, chimps and red pandas, reptiles and tropical birds. A registered charity, Dublin Zoo also manages the EEP for the golden lion tamarin and the Moluccan cockatoo.
Based in Phoenix Park, facilities at Dublin Zoo include two gift stores, a restaurant, cafes, and kiosks. On any day at the zoo, you can also see animals being fed by the zoo keepers.
The pedestrian-friendly Grafton Street stems off of the western end of Trinity College and runs down to the main entrance of St. Stephen's Green. Acting as a direct link between these famous landmarks, Grafton Street is a main thoroughfare but is also a popular destination in itself. Both locals and visitors to Dublin come to Grafton Street to peek in the high-end shops and grab a bite at one of the eateries. At the end of the street, across from the entrance to the park, there's also St. Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, which adds to the wide selection of stores down at street level.
Those meandering the broad boulevard will find entertainment along their way as well. The fact that most of Grafton Street is closed to cars makes it a prime location for street performers to set up their acts.
Dividing Dublin into north and south, the River Liffey is the subject of stories and songs by everyone from James Joyce to Radiohead. Entwined in Dublin's cultural identity, let's just say that some of the stories surrounding the Liffey are more than a little mythical: so if any Dubliners tell you that the capital’s Guinness tastes so good because the water comes from the Liffey, let them know that Guinness water is actually piped from the Wicklow mountains.
A popular spot for a river cruise or for a spot of canoeing, in recent years, the Liffey has had its riverbanks' developed so that you can stroll the overhanging boardwalks and visit the riverside parks which run alongside many parts of the river. Most Dublin attractions are near the river, and there are plenty of bridges to help you get from side to side, including the famous Ha'penny Bridge, built in 1816, and the modern Samuel Beckett bridge which is shaped like a harp.
Playing a large part in the establishment of Ireland as an independent nation, Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol was built in 1787 and many prominent Irish independent fighters were incarcerated – and some executed – in this jailhouse during the lengthy political Troubles between Ireland and the UK. Irish Republican Robert Emmet was hung here in 1803 and later that century Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell was imprisoned at Kilmainham in 1881, before his private life – scandalous by the standards of the time – led to his downfall in public life. The future Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera was also held at Kilmainham for his part in the Easter Rising of 1916, which failed in its attempt to establish an independent Ireland but saw increased public support for the radical republican group Sinn Féin. Founded in 1905, the party is still active in both parts of Ireland; today it has five Northern Irish MPs at Westminster under the leadership of Gerry Adams.
The name might not sound inspiring, but one glimpse of the General Post Office’s (GPO) imposing facade is sure to capture your attention with its ornate stone-carved portico and iconic statues punctuating the skyline.
The monumental building was constructed on O'Connell Street between 1815 and 1818 as the headquarters of the Irish postal service. Designed by Francis Johnston, the building’s architectural prowess features a Greek-revival theme, with 55-foot (17-meter) high Greco-Roman pillars and a series of dramatic Ionic columns flanking the entrance. Statues of Hibernia (goddess of Ireland), Fidelity and Mercury (messenger of the gods) stand proud atop the roof – the handiwork of sculptor John Smyth. The GPO isn’t simply a landmark though; its walls hide an illustrious history. The building was famously used as the main stronghold of Irish Volunteers during the 1916 Easter Rising and the front steps were where Patrick Pearse made his famous pre-siege speech.
One may not truly understand the awesome power of Mother Nature’s beauty until you have visited Connemara. With a countryside that will knock your socks off with the sheer beauty of the peninsula, a plethora of gorgeous flora, and remarkable landscape and coastal view, Connemara is a hiker's dream.
Immerse yourself in the land by taking up on of the area's offered activities, including kayaking, gorge walking or even rock climbing. Getting outdoors is the perfect way to explore this paradise.
While there, make sure to visit Kylemore Abbey and its Victorian Walled Garden, man's answer and contribution to this the area's sheer beauty. Situated waterside and along a hill, the Abbey's garden is the gem, with more than 6 acres of manicured terrain that includes banana trees, vines, and various herbs and flowers, all displayed with a thoughtful and wonderful symmetry.
The National Museum of Ireland is dedicated to showcasing items of Irish art, culture, and natural history. Of the three branches the collections are divided amongst, the archaeology section, located on Kildare Street, holds the best known and most impressive of all of the exhibits.
Its collection of medieval metalwork is known as the Treasury and is home to the world's most complete collection of Celtic metal artifacts, dating back from Ireland's Iron and Bronze Ages. Highlights of the collection include the Ardaugh Chalice, considered the finest piece of Celtic art found, and the Tara Brooch, an intricate piece of jewelry crafted in the 8th century. Other artifacts are grouped into "hoards", of which the Mooghaun and Broighter hoards are the most notable. The museum also displays an extensive collection of prehistoric goldwork as well as artifacts that document the settlement of Ireland from 7,000 BC all the way up to 500 BC.
Built in the late 18th century, Dublin City Hall is a classic Georgian building that was designed by renowned architect Thomas Cooley. Originally intended as the Royal Exchange for prosperous Dublin's large merchant population, inside it's all fluted columns and grand pillars, and as you enter you'll notice the beautiful rotunda.
Then head to the vaults to visit the "Dublin City Hall, The Story of the Capital," exhibition. Through multimedia displays you'll get to trace the story of Dublin from Viking times before the Anglo-Norman invasion back in 1170, through to tales of the buzzing Irish capital today. Downstairs in the gallery, Dublin City Hall is also home to Tir na nÓg Caife, which serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and snacks.
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